The Future of Hunting – Do You Really Give A Damn?

Whitetail deer in a field

I don’t remember when it started – maybe when I was 13 or so – but I used to have this fear that I wasn’t going to get my driver’s license.  It wasn’t that I thought that I wouldn’t pass the test…no, I thought that I would never get my driver’s license.  (You can image how upsetting this would be to a boy of that age!)  I don’t know if I thought the world was going to end, or I was going to die before I turned 16 – I’m not sure what I was thinking really.

Looking back, this was obviously a very silly moment in my life.  My fear was incredibly irrational, but it was genuine.

I thought of this irrational fear the other day as I was sitting in my treestand during an evening hunt.  I was thinking about the future and wondering what hunting may look like in 20, 30, or 40 years.  Would I still be hunting?  Would I be able to raise my kids in a world where they could hunt?  Is it an immature, irrational fear to think that hunting has seen its better days and that hunting, as we know it, may cease to exist in the not-too-distant future?

I don’t think the sky is falling.  In fact, I’m really encouraged by many great things happening right now in the areas of hunting and conservation.  There are some incredibly passionate people and dedicated organizations doing some amazing work to protect the future of hunting.  What worries me, though, is that so many hunters still seem to have such a shortsighted, individualistic view of things.

We spend our money, time, and energy focused on our hunting…on what affects us specifically, individually.  But we spend very little (if any!) money, time, or energy focused on the future of hunting as a whole.

The great conservation mind, Shane Mahoney, recently gave a wonderful speech at the Idaho Wildlife Summit.  (I highly recommend that you set aside 50 minutes of your time to watch the video below.  Seriously, make the time, come back here and do it!)  In his speech, Mahoney said something that gets to the heart of the issue…

I want people to ask me – to explain to them how it is I can [hunt] – and how it has made me who I am, and how it has made me do the things I do for wildlife.

I want them to ask me that.  And I want them to ask me, am I doing it humanely?

I am not afraid of people who have different viewpoints…but what I am desperately concerned about is the people who don’t care at all.

I would much sooner have a world filled with people who are so vitally concerned with wildlife that they fight all the time about it, than a world in which nobody gives a damn.

So the question to you is – do you really, truly “give a damn”?  If so, what are you doing about it?  How are you working to protect, strengthen, and ensure the future of hunting, not just for yourself, but for all?

Join me next week for a quick look at a few of the issues that are posing a threat to the future of hunting and some of the seemingly small, but significant things you can do about it.

Shane Mahoney at the Idaho Wildlife Summit

If you don’t see the video above, please watch it here.

5 Factors That Will Test Your Bowhunting Accuracy

Awkward Shot

There are things that we know, and then there are things that we know.

We know that 40 degrees with a 20 mph wind is chilly.  But it is one thing to know that as a fact in our heads, and it is another thing to know it in our bones when we encounter those conditions for the first time after a long, hot summer.

I was in the stand for about 30 minutes on opening day before I realized something – shooting in a hunting situation is vastly different than all the target practice that I had done all summer long.  This, I know.

My surroundings were vastly different.  My level of excitement was heightened.  My position was radically changed.  Everything felt new.  After all, it had been many months since I was in this situation.

Leading up to opening day I had the utmost confidence in my equipment and my shooting ability.  I had been practicing more than ever, including shooting at long distances, in hopes of making the shorter shots feel like slam dunks.  I still have that confidence, but I am also aware that there are other factors that I need to consider as I set about making an effective shot in a hunting situation.

Here’s a quick look at 5 important factors that we need to consider as we assess our shooting opportunities in hunting situations…

Emotion

An up close and personal encounter with a truly wild animal is something that will get your heart pounding, your knees shaking, and your mind racing.  Whitetail hunters have often referred to this excitement as “buck fever”. This reaction is what makes hunters tick, but if we are not careful this core instinct can turn into shot-wrecking anxiety. Shooting in this condition is something that we likely haven’t experienced in the months of practice leading up to opening day.

Timing

 Now that we have encountered the animal we are after, we are now on the clock. Is the wind going to shift and blow our scent to the deer, spooking it into the next county? Is the deer going to hear us as we get situated for the shot, or see us as we draw our bow? The bowhunter needs to read the animal and learn to be patient when possible, but swift and effective when necessary.

Position

The majority of bowhunters chasing whitetail will be shooting from an elevated treestand. Others will be seated in a ground blind. Fewer still will be on the ground, still-hunting their way into range.  Regardless of your hunting method, the odds are slim that you will be able to shoot from a position that is stable, level, and square to a perfectly broadside target. What will sitting, standing, kneeling, twisting, bending, hunching, leaning, or some other type of unfamiliar contortion do to your shooting accuracy?

Obstructions

A 400 grain arrow traveling at 300 feet per second is moving with an astounding amount of energy. It is amazing that this arrow, which can easily penetrate through a deer’s chest cavity, can also be so easily deflected by one wayward branch. It is also curious how a saggy sleeve can interfere with our bow and result in a poor shot. Or, how about the fact that we didn’t realize we don’t have the same finger dexterity with our hunting gloves on, and we inadvertently fire the trigger on our release?

Weather

In whitetail hunting you never know when the moment is going to present itself.  Shot opportunities often don’t come until we have spent hours patiently waiting in the bitter cold.  It can be difficult to fire-up our muscles after they have been resting in the cold; which means that drawing our bow becomes a challenge, fighting off the shivers of cold and anxiety can be burdensome, and feeling the small trigger on our release can be problematic.

As you can see, making an effective shot in a hunting situation can be vastly different than all of the shots that we take in practice.  This immediately brings two thoughts to mind for me…

1)     We can’t assume that we will be as accurate in a hunting situation as we are in a nice, comfortable, controlled practice environment.

2)     We need to be aware of these factors and come up with ways to address them into our practice routines, so that we are preparing for real hunting situations and not just rehearsing unrealistic shot scenarios.

Which one of these factors do you think affects your hunting accuracy the most?  In what ways do you address these factors in your practice routines?

This article also appeared on WiredToHunt.com

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Friday Files – Gear Giveaway, Worst Hunting Excuses, Selling Public Lands

HuntingBoots.com Rocky Gear Giveaway

Gear up with Rocky photo contest!

Rocky Gear has  new line of hunting apparel out called the Rocky Athletic Mobility (RAM) series.  You can win head-to-toe Rocky apparel from my friends at HuntingBoots.com.  All you have to do to enter is go here and submit a photo that includes your favorite piece of hunting gear.  Enter now…

Broken Fall

What would it be like to take an arrow through your leg?  Hopefully you will never find out, but Jeff Simpson faced this exact situation.  All it takes is one moment of poor judgement to put ourselves in harms way.  I admire Jeff for having the courage to share this story so that you and I can be reminded of the safety precautions that we all need to take, all the time!  Read Jeff’s story…

A Whitetailer’s Crutches: The Worst Excuses in Whitetail Hunting

I don’t know that we would always admit it, but hunter’s love their excuses.  Take a look at this article from Bowhunter magazine, which covers the whitetail hunter’s worst excuses.  Come on now, be honest – how many of these excuses have you muttered to your buddies?  See the list…

Official GOP Platform: Sell America’s Public Land

I try to stay out of politics on this site but there are certain issues that should be brought to your attention, regardless of which side of the aisle we are focusing on.  Consider this article, which doesn’t speculate, but looks at the official GOP platform regarding the idea that public lands should be privatized.  Find out more…

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Receives Largest Donation in History

And now, to balance the negativity from the last article, take a look at this!… “A wealthy hedge fund manager has set a record, donating 170,000 acres of prime wilderness land in Colorado’s pristine Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, making it the largest donation to the agency.”  It is so refreshing to see both a positive conservation story, as well as a positive story about those supposedly filthy, evil Wall Street crooks.  ;-)  Read more…

Hunt Recap – The First Weekend of the Season

Well, the first weekend of my 2012 whitetail season is in the books.  It was a typical hunt in the sense that it involved some highs, some lows, an exciting encounter, and a lot of ‘down time’.  That is quite a bit to experience – especially considering the fact that all that came with no deer sightings to speak of.

Opening Day – The Morning Hunt

The Morning View

The conditions on opening morning were great.  It felt amazing to step outside and really feel fall for the first time.  (If you didn’t catch my last post, be sure to check that out for some deeper reflections that I felt as I started my season that morning.)

My Elite was ready to go!

The one thing that wasn’t right on opening morning was the wind.  I had a pretty good idea of a treestand location that should show me some morning activity, but the southern wind just wasn’t right for that setup.  I didn’t want to risk disrupting any behavior in that spot, especially since I have also seen some great bucks in that area during the evening.

I decided to set up near the high spot of a finger ridge.  I hunted this area a few times last year, but never this early in the season.  I didn’t expect much activity from this spot for a morning hunt, but I wanted to check this area out for one reason – acorns.

Although my morning hunt passed by without a single encounter, I still counted it a worthwhile time because I gained some valuable intelligence on this area, including which trees were producing acorns.  Overall, it was just an absolutely wonderful morning in the woods.  It felt great to be back in the hunt!

Opening Day – The Evening Hunt

The Evening View

The afternoon and evening winds were still coming out of the south, which was perfect for my plans.  I was heading to the edge of a very steep, thick bedding area, which opened up to a water source and led further down a timber funnel to a hay field.  My hope was to catch some deer movement as they were transitioning out of the bedding area and on their feet to browse in the late evening.

This was the spot where I got photos of the Bigwoods Bruiser, and though I hadn’t been able to check that camera before this hunt, I did pull the card before I climbed up for the evening and it had 200+ pics on it.  Would I see him tonight?

Looking over the trail

I’ll save you the extraneous details from a long, frustrating story – but let’s just say that getting setup in this area was extremely difficult and I came incredibly close to giving up this evening hunt.  But in the end, I am glad I stuck it out.  Sometimes the most difficult spots to reach and hunt can be the most rewarding!

I settled in for the evening and awaited ‘prime time’.  Right about 7:00 I heard some movement behind me, coming out of the bedding area.  I couldn’t see anything through the thicket, but whatever this was, it was coming – slowly, but surely.

I finally caught a glimpse of some movement, just 10 yards away, but I still couldn’t make anything out.  After another minute, and much to my dismay, a coyote stepped out.  He worked his way towards me, reaching the base of my tree, and then began to step out in front of me.  Just as he was clearing the bottom of my stand he caught me and busted out of there.

Darkness fell as quickly as the coyote fled, and just like that my hunt was over.

After the Hunt

Once I got home that night I reviewed the photos from the card that I pulled and confirmed two things.

1)      I made the right call in avoiding this area on opening morning.  It looks like I would have had quite a bit of activity, but it was all coming in from what would have been the upwind direction.  As much as I wanted to hunt this spot that morning, I am glad I made the right call in waiting for better conditions.

2)      I have more photos of the Bigwoods Bruiser visiting this area in shooting light, as well as another quality buck.  In fact, they were both right under my stand at 7:10pm, just 2 nights before the season opener.

In Conclusion

This is the first full season that I have had access to this property, and the first time that I have hunted it before late October.  I’m really enjoying the process of learning this new ground and putting the pieces of the puzzle together.  I can’t wait to see what this season brings!

Reflections from Opening Morning – The Unseeen Fortune of a Hunter

Hiking by Headlamp

Well, it is official – my hunting season has begun!  I got out a couple of times this weekend and I’ll be headed out again tomorrow evening.  No blood has been spilled yet, but I had a great time getting back into the woods and entering the hunting mindset.  I feel so at home out there, as if there is a piece of myself that can only be found in the stillness of the forest.  I’ll probably share a bit more about my first week of hunting on Wednesday, but for now please read this piece I published for Wired to Hunt.  Enjoy!

………………..

The density of true darkness is compelling. And the moon – on its final day before a new phase would begin tomorrow – could do little to penetrate it. The stars were bright and would certainly be helpful for navigation if I was aboard a ship at sea, but they were useless in helping me find my way through the timber. I had no choice but to turn on my headlamp. The light, at its lowest setting, permeated the blackness with force. The bright beam was diffused only slightly by my breath, which was rising, slightly visible in the cool air.

I found comfort in the fact that I could see my breath. Comforted, not because it was proof that I was breathing – that was certainly never in question – rather, I found comfort because this visible vapor was evidence that the crispness of fall was beginning to manifest itself.

I continued to hike, present in the moment, yet also lost in my thoughts, anticipation, and recollection of previous hunts. I soon arrived at my destination – a massive oak that I would call home for the morning. I dropped the stand from my back, unloaded my climbing sticks, secured my harness, and began my ascent.

Now, settled 20’ up in the oak, the thoughts and anticipation that were previously racing through my mind skidded to a halt as they came in contact with the apparent stillness of my surroundings.  I always love being tucked up into a tree in the darkness, before the morning breaks.  I feel alone, as if I am in a sea of nothingness, yet I know that life surrounds.  I can’t see the other trees, yet I trust that they are there.  I can’t see the terrain, but I know it rises and falls all around me.

As I think about the gravity of being lost in these invisible surroundings I am struck by the deafening scream of silence.  It is odd, really.  How silence has become something that yells with more vigor than the loudest of sounds.

The concept of an “awkward silence” hints at the fact that, at one point, moments of silence were comfortable.  Now, in our world of constant busyness, never-ending entertainment, and limitless technology, all silence has become awkward.  The modern man’s encounters with silence are nothing more than fleeting seconds that occur between diversions.

The breeze that is drifting out of the East will soon be accompanied by an orange glow coming from the same direction.  Light will rise, and with it, life.  And this day – the opening day of my 2012 whitetail season – will officially begin.

Maybe I will have the opportunity of killing a deer and providing some quality, natural protein for my family.  Maybe I will get to experience the joy of harvesting – or even just seeing – a buck that is a noble representation of the breed, a true trophy.  Maybe I will merely get to encounter nature and escape the incessant tediousness of the developed world; indeed, I already have.

No matter what may come to be as light delivers day, I have already experienced many things that have revealed to me how fortunate I am to be a hunter.

Darkness, silence, solitude, space, clarity – these are gifts given to the hunter.  Let us not ignore them.

This article also appeared on WiredToHunt.com

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